Alex English, snubbed from the NBA’s 75 greatest players list: ‘I was even more hurt this time’

·13 min read

Eight-time All-Star Alex English, who was the league’s top scorer in the 1980s, was left off the NBA’s list of the 75 greatest players ever (he made ours, though, ranking at 71st position).

English, who was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame back in 1997, was the first player in league history to ever score 2,000 points during eight consecutive seasons. He led the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs nine years in a row and later spent more than a decade as an assistant coach for several different franchises.

He caught up with HoopsHype to share some of his thoughts about the list and offered some valuable insight for other players in their retirement.

Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.

For those who didn’t see you play, do you have any current player comparisons?

Alex English: The game of basketball is so unique and beautiful that you don’t get people replicating other people’s talents. They may come close. Kobe Bryant had a lot of Michael Jordan but he was still Kobe. He was a totally different player. Maybe the person who has my body’s build would be Kevin Durant. As far as my mid-range game, I would think that Kawhi Leonard knows how to get to that spot and get a nice open jump shot. Other than that, there are so many unique players. That’s the beauty of the game. You get to see something different from everyone whenever they step on the floor.

You were one of the most consistent players in league history. How did you do it?

AE: I loved the game. When I went out and played, every night, I was so excited and wanted to win and play well. That’s because I loved the game so much. I enjoyed what I did. When you have that kind of passion for something, you’re going to be good at it. I had that passion every single night.

You were snubbed on the 50th-anniversary list. Were you optimistic about the 75th?

AE: I was thinking that maybe people realized it was a mistake not having me on the 50th-anniversary list. I felt I should have been on that one. But I was even more hurt this time because they added 25 more players. They could have kept all 50 of the original names but added me. They added Dominique Wilkins and Bob McAdoo who were scorers as well. So what reason was I not included? Is it because Dominique was a great dunker? I feel that he belongs there as well. So does McAdoo. They were great. But my body of work was just as good. What I did during the era I played, no one scored as many points. Every year, we were in the playoffs. It was just disappointing.

How did you find out you were not included on the NBA’s 75th-anniversary list?

AE: The television broadcast. That stung. At the same time, I was getting calls from the league to be measured for something. I thought maybe I was on that list. I would have assumed. But I guess that’s not what I was being measured for. It just stings. I know what I did. I know the work that I put in. When I look at who they have on that list, and you tell me I shouldn’t be included, I don’t like that. I think the way they did it was a little flawed. I will get over it. Like I said in my tweet, I congratulate the people who got selected.

What was the biggest reason voters made a mistake not including you?

AE: I was the leading scorer of an entire decade. That decade had some of the best players that ever played the game. We had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I played against some of the best players to play against every night and I still wasn’t included. That stings. My peers know. The people I played against know what Alex English can do. They saw it every night.

What were the flaws with the methodology on how the league selected its players?

Alex English
Alex English

Tim DeFrisco /Allsport

AE: I don’t like that they included all of the same fifty players from the 50th-anniversary list. You also can’t have too many of the young people voting because they’re going to look at what they see now. They might not remember me or know about my game. It’s flawed in that sense and I think that basketball minds have to be the people that voted.

Maybe they should have done it by era. They could have divided it by every ten years. Then, you can have the people from that era vote on the people who played during that era instead of having such a broad spectrum of people voting who didn’t know about some of the athletes who participated. I look at a guy like Bernard King. I’ve always admired him and I felt he was outstanding and I know he didn’t get the opportunity as well. I don’t know what criteria these voters used.

What are some of the ways you’ve reconciled with not being included on the list?

AE: I know that the style of basketball that I played is not the kind that people watch and think is very exciting. I wasn’t dunking or shooting three-pointers. My game was a workman’s game. I liked to play between the three-point line and the basket. A lot of people look at my career and they talk about the points. But if you look deep into my career, it was more than that. As far as assists and steals and blocked shots and rebounds, if you look at the people who played my position, I’m one of the top of each category. So it was more than scoring.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed but I know my body of work stands up or is better. It’s not something I can continue to harp on and be worried about. This is my last conversation about it if I can help it. I want to move beyond this. I was disappointed. I’m moving on. My whole life goes on. I still live life. Life to me is more than just my basketball career. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes. That’s not what it’s going to be. I’ve moved on from that. Basketball was a part of my life but I have a whole life.

What is some advice you would give to a player transitioning into retirement?

(STEPHEN SHAVER/AFP via Getty Images)

AE: I would tell them that the first year out is a year of withdrawal. It may be a little tough. Get acclimated. Slowly get into something that you enjoy doing. Just understand that the first year out may be difficult emotionally. You’re pulling away from the game that you’ve been involved in a long time.I would say you must find something that you’re passionate about and give it your time. Definitely try and find time to help other people. But as far as your own self, work on your personal happiness.

Once I retired, I had an opportunity to do some things I didn’t have an opportunity to do when I played. I wanted to learn how to make candles. I took a candle-making class. I went to France and learned how to make candles from one of the candle masters. I also love to travel. That’s very important. I’ve got to several different countries. I went down to Uruguay and I went to underprivileged areas and taught basketball for two years and held camps there. I’ve worked in China. I spent two years going to different NBA camps there and teaching those young players about the game. I really enjoyed that. I could do that the rest of my life: traveling and teaching.

What did you learn once you transitioned to coaching after your playing career?

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AE: I missed the interaction and the creativity and the camaraderie with teammates after I stopped playing. I missed the hard work that you put in to become a good basketball player. But I got a lot of that out of coaching. One thing players who want to coach have to understand is that you’re not going to be able to have as much of an impression on the game as when you played because when you played, you were physically involved. The perspective that you use when you coach is mental and even though you need to utilize those experiences you had as a player, it’s different. So all younger coaches need to study the game and put that work in and it will eventually pay off.

What are some of the ways that you spend your time in your retirement these days?

AE: I live in Columbus, South Carolina. I serve on the board of trustees at the University of South Carolina. That takes a lot of my time. I’m also a hemp farmer in South Carolina. This is my third year. Once the state of South Carolina decided that growing up was legal, because of the medicinal benefits of CBD and the plant, I decided it was a good opportunity to try and branch out and do something different — as well as help people. My son, William, went to school to learn about growing cannabis — which is the same as hemp but with THC. We had some extra land and decided to grow. We’re getting ingrained in the business. This is going to be our best year. We’re excited about that. I also spend lots of time with different charity groups. I’m just trying to enjoy my retirement.

I love that Alex English studied English in college. Do you find much time to read?

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AE: That’s right. [Laughs] With literature and writing, I could do a lot more of that. I could do a lot more reading. I don’t find as much time to do that as I would like but I still find time to do it. I loved learning about Shakespearean tragedies and Shakespearean comedies. I think that Shakespeare has a lot of connections to and insights on how we live life. I learned a lot and my life in English literature gave me lots of lessons. I took lessons on how people impact other people and how they live their own lives.

How much basketball do you consume these days? Do you watch the Nuggets?

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AE: Yeah. I watch the Nuggets. I like the Nuggets. I think Nikola Jokic is definitely one of the best players in the league. He could go down as one of the best players in franchise history. I enjoy him. I like Jamal Murray. They have PJ Dozier from my university so I’m happy about that. I’m waiting for Michael Porter Jr. to step out and become the superstar that I know he can be. I’ve been predicting them to win the championship for the last two years and each time, I’ve gotten disappointed because other teams are getting better at the same time. But they’ve got all the potential. Michael Malone does a great job coaching them. You know those guys play well because the city of Denver treats them so well. They treat them like champions.

Is there anything, in particular, you admire about the way the game has evolved?

Alex English
Alex English

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

AE: I do enjoy the young players of today being so focused on social issues and social justice. I think that’s very positive. They understand other people’s plight and they are able to help other people and they’re able to give back. It’s a great feeling. It’s positive. So many players have the platform and make the money and that’s important. My grandmother used to say: ‘The more you give, the more you receive.’ Don’t forget the WNBA. They have been staunch in their support and their stance. I admire and appreciate them as well.

What are some of your other impressions about the WNBA?

AE: I love watching them play. They’re so pure in their game. These playoffs were amazing and more people got to see it. I hope and pray we continue to support them. They deserve it. They are pretty awesome athletes in their own right. You watch some of those young ladies play and you’re blown away. You watch Allisha Gray and she’s so intense defensively. I watched her in the Women’s 3×3 and she was non-stop. Brittney Griner is like the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of women’s basketball and she is still figuring out how she can be the dominant player she can be. A’ja Wilson from South Carolina is a bad sister.

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